The Carolina Panthers might have found a pass-rusher Sunday, and it wasn’t the big-name veteran they traded for last week.
Instead, it was a heretofore unknown defensive end who went to two schools and was with two NFL teams before the Panthers plucked him off Washington’s practice squad last week.
Meet Ryan Delaire, or – as ESPN.com listed him in its in-game box score – simply, “Ryan.”
By the end of his debut in the Panthers’ 37-23 victory over Tampa Bay, Delaire had two sacks, nearly a third and perhaps a new nickname: The Sack Prince of Delaire.
“What an awesome debut. That was the coolest thing ever. I’m stoked for him,” newly acquired defensive end Jared Allen said. “I love to see young guys have success. You could see it ear to ear.”
Allen was the guy who generated the headlines and accompanying buzz last week after Carolina sent Chicago a sixth-round pick in next year’s draft for the NFL’s active sacks leader.
Allen entered Sunday’s game with 134 sacks, or 134 more than Delaire, who trimmed the deficit to 132 by the end of the day.
What an awesome debut. That was the coolest thing ever. I’m stoked for him. I love to see young guys have success. You could see it ear to ear.
Newly acquired Panthers defensive end Jared Allen, on undrafted rookie Ryan Delaire
Delaire went undrafted out of Towson, where he had 22.5 sacks in two seasons after transferring from Massachusetts. Delaire played in the Football Championship Subdivision title game his first year at Towson, and before Sunday his best game was a three-sack performance against Maine last September.
But on a weird day at Raymond James Stadium, with intermittent showers interrupted by patches of sun, the undrafted Delaire added to the misery of the No. 1 pick in this year’s draft.
As if Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston’s four interceptions and a fumble weren’t bad enough, he spent a good chunk of the second half being chased by the 6-foot-4, 265-pound Delaire.
Delaire spoke to Winston briefly on the field afterward and offered him a generic “good game.” Give Delaire credit for not rubbing it in.
After one of Delaire’s sacks, the press box announcer credited the hit to Colin Cole, the defensive tackle who was cut Wednesday to make room for Delaire. Delaire is wearing Cole’s former No. 91, so the confusion was understandable.
But if anyone knew about Delaire it should have been the Bucs, who signed him as a free agent in May after the draft. Delaire made it to the final cuts with Tampa Bay, despite what he perceived as an uneven playing field.
“I actually never really got a shot,” Delaire said. “I was in practice. I didn’t get as much reps. I couldn’t really perform the way I wanted to.”
I actually never really got a shot. I was in practice. I didn’t get as much reps. I couldn’t really perform the way I wanted to.
Panthers DE Ryan Delaire, on why he was cut by Tampa Bay
Delaire said the Panthers invited him for a workout after the Bucs cut him, but Washington had offered him a spot on its practice squad. But Carolina’s pro personnel department didn’t forget about Delaire when the Panthers revamped their front four after an injury to Charles Johnson and an inconsistent pass rush.
Delaire had gone to Washington’s facility Tuesday for an off-day massage. When he returned to his extended-stay hotel later, his agent Sean Stellato called and greeted Delaire with the SportsCenter theme music, “DaDaDa, DaDaDa.”
Delaire was in a Panthers’ uniform Wednesday, although his presence was an afterthought compared to Allen’s arrival.
But Panthers safety Kurt Coleman noticed Delaire when he was watching tape of the defense from one of last week’s practices.
“He had a great pass-rush move. He’s very explosive. I was like, ‘Wow, this kid has real good talent,’” Coleman said. “But you never know how it’s going to translate when he gets on the field. He did a great job coming in (after) three days of practice. I mean, how many (sacks) did he have, three?”
Delaire would have had three had Winston not blindly whipped the ball away before Delaire took him to the ground a third time.
He had a great pass-rush move. He’s very explosive. I was like, ‘Wow, this kid has real good talent.’
Panthers DB Kurt Coleman, on watching practice film of rookie DE Ryan Delaire last week
Asked if he thought Winston’s knee had hit the ground, Delaire said: “I felt like everything was on the ground. I felt like that should’ve been a sack, that should’ve been a third one. But hey, oh well. It doesn’t matter, it was a win.”
Panthers coach Ron Rivera compared Delaire’s skill set to speed rusher Mario Addison’s, and suggested Delaire benefited by being something of an unknown (never mind that he’d been with the Bucs for four months).
“I think people are going to get to know a little about who he is and he may not always have this kind of success,” Rivera said. “But it’d be great to have it.”
Delaire finished with five tackles, and Allen had one tackle and one hit on Winston in his first Panthers game. Allen said a pinched nerve in his leg sidelined him late in the game, but he was happy to see Delaire grab the spotlight – even if the rest of the NFL was still trying to figure out who he is.
He took his first name-only listing on ESPN.com in stride.
“I learned a lot from my family, from the older people in my family. My mom, my dad. So that last name means a whole lot,” Delaire said. “It’s whatever if they don’t have my last name. A lot of people don’t know about me. In the future, they will.”